RAINBOW WALKERS by Doffs Schwerin


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It's possible to write about futuristic medicine without lapsing into cartoon-melodrama--remember Richard Setlowe's moving The Experiment (1980)--but Schwerin's long novel about cryonics and cancer-cures is a sloshy mixture of soap opera, comic-book sf, and TV-level uplift. In the slow-moving first half, 54-year-old widower Max Treading--""wizard of finance. . . uranium mining king""--survives a near-fatal 1981 copter crash only to discover that he has terminal bone cancer. His warm, 30-ish mistress Hedda is supportive, eager to marry, but Max selflessly tries to keep her at a distance. Younger daughter Phoebe, radical grad student, is loving and loyal; older daughter Roz, a snobbish matron with Oedipal grievances (she loathes Hedda), evades the reality of her father's illness. And Max himself, after a one-year fight against the recurring cancer, decides on quiet suicide. Then, however, Max's doctor, Nobel-winning Dr. Hiram Wesgrove, persuades the dying patient on a different route: ""Give yourself to science. Die before your organs are permanently damaged. A painless death. By injection."" So, via some Mission: Impossible theatrics, Max's natural death is faked; and he's soon frozen in Dr. W.'s capsule--while everyone believes that Max's body has been donated to medical research in the more traditional way. End of story? Far from it. First, thanks to an embittered research-center employee, the real story of Max's exit is exposed: despite lots of evidence to prove Max's willing participation in the guinea-pig scheme, noble Dr. W. is convicted of murder (even if it's ""murder by compassion!""). Meanwhile, Phoebe inherits Max's empire and falls in instant, soft-focus love with journalist Sam. And next thing you know it's 1994--when, sure enough: an anticancer serum has been discovered; Max is successfully defrosted, becoming a guinea pig for the triumphant serum; and even nasty Roz winds up happy, since her father's return also involves the airing of bygone family memories (with psycho-therapeutic benefits all around). Unfortunately, the many provocative subjects here--euthanasia, human guinea-pigdom, suicide--receive shallow treatments. (Dr. W.'s trial gets a three-page summary.) The science, too, remains thin and unpersuasive--despite some dense globules of techno-dialogue: ""You mean to say, he created a quasimaterial out of the laser and the electrical impulses of the brain cells were arrested in place? The son of a gun must have made a quantum leap!"" Instead, Schwerin leans heavily on the sort of tinny family/romance wranglings that made her 1978 novel Leanna (another Oedipal stew) so enervating. So, though intended as an inspirational salute to daring researchers, this ends up as a raggedly paced, sporadically intriguing hybrid--with none of its elements (family-drama, medical sf, law-and-ethics) getting assured, steady attention.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1985
Publisher: Villard/Random House